Today is called “Gaudete Sunday” because today’s Mass began with the opening antiphon: “Gaudete in Domino semper” –“Rejoice in the Lord always.”
In the past, when Advent was a season of penance, the celebrant of the liturgy used to wear vestments with the penitential color of purple or violet. To remind the people that they were preparing for the very joyful occasion of the birth of Jesus, the celebrant wore rose-colored vestments on the third Sunday. (By the way, we have a similar break – Laetare Sunday – during the Lenten season).
Today we light the rose candle, and the Priest may wear rose vestments, to express our joy in the coming of Jesus, our Savior. The primary common theme running through today’s Readings is that of encouraging joy as we meet our need for the preparation required of us who await the rebirth of Jesus in our hearts and lives. The second common theme is that of bearing witness. The Prophet Isaiah, Mary and John the Baptist all bear joyful witness to what God has done and will do for his people.
The Readings for the third Sunday of Advent remind us that the coming of Jesus, past, present and future, is the reason for our rejoicing. The Church says to us as the Prophet Nehemiah said to the Israelites: “Go and enjoy…Do not grieve, for the joy of the LORD is your strength” (Neh 8, 10).
The first Reading tells us that we should rejoice because the promised Messiah is coming as our Savior and liberator, saving us by liberating us from our bondages. Isaiah busts out in joy as he experienced the divine presence and hand of God tremendously at work in his life and mission: “The Spirit of the Lord has been given to me, for the Lord has anointed me to…” This is a song of joy and satisfaction of an empowered person. He recounts what God has done in his life. This is the great joy that Gaudate Sunday provokes. That is, the joy that our Saviour is near. So, we need to be alert, vigilant and focused on where we are actually going.
Our second Reading is an explicit exaltation from Paul to us especially on this great and joy-filled Sunday of Advent: “Be happy at all times, pray constantly, and for all things give thanks to God…” In this brief exaltation, we find a wonderful progression. First, it is an exaltation to be happy, joyful and cheerful because our journey so far has been so good. Second, it is an exaltation to “Pray constantly,” to be vigilant. Therefore, for Gaudate Sunday to be truly meaningful, it must provoke a great feeling of joy and thankfulness, while still strongly preserving, and keeping us focused on our journey and duty this glorious season of Advent.
That is why Paul advises us to “rejoice always” by leading blameless, holy, and thankful lives guided by the Holy Spirit, because Christ is faithful and will come again to reward us.
Today our Gospel reading revolves round the prophecy and clear call of the “Prophet of Prophets,” John the Baptist. The Gospel tells us that John the Baptist came as a witness to testify to the Light, i.e., Jesus. The coming of Jesus, the Light, into the world is cause for rejoicing as Light removes darkness from the world. So the joy of this Sunday foreshadows the fullness of joy that Christmas brings.
We rejoice at the humility of John the Baptist, who tells the Sanhedrin members challenging him that he is unworthy even to become the slave of Jesus the Messiah. We also rejoice in the sincerity and commitment of John who spent himself completely in preparing people for the long-awaited Messiah.
We should be glad and rejoice also because, like John the Baptist, we, too, are chosen to bear witness to Christ Jesus, the Light of the world. We are to reflect Jesus’ Light in our lives so that we may radiate it and illuminate the dark lives of others around us. The joyful message of today’s liturgy is clear. The salvation we await with rejoicing will liberate both the individual and the community, and its special focus will be the poor and lowly, not the rich and powerful.
This Sunday, the Church advises us that by Baptism we become members of the family of Christ, the true Light of the world. Jesus said, “You are the light of the world.” Hence, our mission as brothers and sisters of Christ and members of his Mystical Body, the Church, is to reflect Christ’s Light to others, just as the moon reflects the light of the sun.
It is especially important during the Advent season that we reflect upon and radiate Christ’s unconditional love and forgiveness everywhere. There are too many people who live in darkness and poverty, and who lack real freedom. There are others who are deafened and blinded by the cheap attractions of the world. Also, many feel lonely, unwanted, rejected, and marginalized. All these people are waiting for us to reflect the Light of Christ into their worlds and to turn their lives into experiences of joy, wholeness, and integrity. The joy of Jesus, the joy of Christmas, can only be ours to the extent that we work with Jesus to bring joy into the lives of others. Let us remember that Christmas is not complete unless we show real generosity to those who have nothing to give us in return.
Secondly, what should we do in preparation for Christmas? The Jews asked the same question of John. His answer was: “Repent and reform your lives, and prayerfully wait for the Messiah.” This means that we have to pray from the heart and pray more often. Our Blessed Mother, in her many apparitions, has urgently reminded us of the need for more fervent and more frequent prayer. Let us remember that the Holy Mass is the most powerful of prayers. We must become a Eucharistic people, receiving the living presence of Jesus in our hearts so that we may be transformed into his image and likeness.
We encounter Jesus in all the Sacraments. Regular monthly Confession makes us strong and enables us to receive more grace in the Eucharist. Let us also listen daily to God speaking to us through the Bible. Perhaps, we may want to pray the rosary daily and fast once a week all year round, not just during Advent and Lent. After all, we sin all year round, so why not fast also all year round? Let us also find some spare time to adore Jesus in the Blessed Sacrament. Let us forgive those who have offended us and pray for those whom we have offended.
Finally, let us share our love with others in selfless and humble service, “doing small things but with great love” (Mother Teresa). As we prepare to celebrate Christmas and the coming of God into our lives, we need also to remind ourselves that we have been called to be the means of bringing Jesus into other people’s lives.
So, let us say a loud AMEN to the prayer of Paul: “May the God of Peace make you perfect and holy, and may you all be kept safe and blameless…..for the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ…God has called you and he will not fail you.” Surely, he will not fail us until we have received Christ, the fullness of our joy and salvation. Surely, he will not fail us because: “All His promises are yes and amen,’’ (2 Cor 1, 20).
Fr Jude CSSp